Now that fall is here you can feel that a shift has taken place.
We’re to that time of year. Everything is coming to a close, a calming of summers extroverted energies. The land will tell you if you care to listen, “We’re drawing inward, going deep into the dirt. Leave us be or you can join us in our slumber!” The land can be that way. A clever trick learned from the fairies. So, be warned. They will take you away if you bother them when they want to be left alone….
…You’ve heard the stories. You go for a walk in the woods. The next thing you know it’s five years later and all you can remember is enjoying a lovely cup of twig tea with a wood nymph that you met while resting on that mossy log over there….
Here in the Pacific Northwest, we don’t always leave the ground alone just because fall is here and winter is on it’s way.
Our maritime climate enables us to do a fun trick called winter gardening. This mild climate is the result of being positioned between the ocean and mountains. In winter it only gets cold enough to slow down the growth of plants but, not freeze them. Of course there is always that unpredictable cold snap, you just hope that it happens in February and not October.
There are other gardeners that have written very well on this subject. My first introduction to this idea was from a book given to me (by who? I wish I could remember!) titled, “Winter Gardening in the Maritime Northwest” by Binda Colebrook. Amazing. Her writing is so accessible and encouraging. One thing she wrote that has always stuck with me was, to go into the garden hungry and see what you could find to eat. I love this kind of magical thinking. Your hunger allowing you to see the food that is there.
Maybe now is a good time to clarify what I mean by winter gardening. I’m referring to cold weather crops and the cold-hardy varieties of those crops. This is actually a longer list than you might think. Roots, such as beets and carrots. Leafy greens that include lettuce, spinach and my personal cold weather favorite, kale. Also, many herbs do well through the winter. Sorry, no basil!
One of the most challenging parts of vegetable gardening is that you really have to plan ahead.
We’ve already mentioned not disturbing the land as it’s falling asleep. To have vegetables available through the winter you have start planting mid-late summer so the plants will put on enough size before the resting coolness of the soil slows down all growth. Working the soil and getting seed started in the middle of summer sounds easy and it mostly is.
You need space.
Where I run into difficulty is that my summer garden is so full I have a hard time finding the space. This is when , as a gardener, you need to be severe and decisive. You need to do the work of harvesting. That means picking the food and pulling the plants. Maybe some of you read my blog about yanking and freezing my green beans? In my smallish veggie patch this act of pulling plants at the top of their production is essential in keeping the rotation of the growing seasons going.
The next crop to go was a determinate tomato variety, Siletz.
Determinate means that it’s a bush-type tomato as opposed to indeterminate, which is a vining-type. Determinate varieties set all of their fruit at once. That can be great if you like to can tomatoes. This is the fourth year that I’ve grown this variety and it never disappoints. I have ripe tomatoes in July and that’s pretty much unheard of in our maritime climate. It turns out that this happens because these tomatoes are parthenocarpic, meaning that it sets fruit without pollination. Therefore, the fruit is able to form early and in cooler temperatures.
We ate off of those plants for nearly two months before I gave them the old heave-ho! There are a couple of ways I like to save the fruit that is still green. One method is to put them single-layered in a box. Just make sure to check regularly for the rotting ones and remove them immediately. In my experience, the fruit that has blemishes on the skin don’t ripen, they just rot, so don’t even bother to keep them. I’ve had good results with boxing them for storage. We’ve been able to eat tomatoes into early December!
Another way is to let them ripen on the vine by hanging them upside down. Just make sure to knock all of the dirt off of the roots first. I hang the pepper plants in the same way. To do this you need a space that’s out of direct sunlight and has good airflow. My shed works well for this through the fall. I do eventually move all stored food indoors to an unheated room.
Another plant that I love but, whose time had come, were the pumpkins.
I grew two kinds of pie pumpkins this year, Winter Luxury and Long Pie Pumpkin. I’ve grown Winter Luxury before and, to be honest, I grew it again this year because there was seed left over from last year. The Long Pie is a new variety for me though. I can’t shake the feeling that all I’ve done is grow giant zucchinis. On the back of the seed packet it says that it can be harvested green with an orange spot and that it will ripen in storage. I sure hope so because as soon as I saw the spots I decided they had had enough time in the sun.
The garden feels pretty much tucked away for the year.
As always, I was (a little?) late on planting for the winter. All of this other stuff was a lot of work! Each year you try to learn from the last. Gardeners traditionally have kept journals of their gardens and you can see why. There is so much to consider and take note of from year to year.
This year I managed to get a few crops going that I hope to pick off of for the winter and I’m happy with that! Some years I would just plant a cover crop and call it good. Then there were other years I was more focused and planted a variety of root vegetables as well as greens. My main focus this year was on greens. We’re really in a salad mode so I guess that’s where my hunger took me. I’m growing ‘Winter Density’ lettuce, ‘Bloomsdale Long-Standing’ spinach and arugula.
As I finish up this blog we’re in the middle of the first storm of the season.
Everyone get inside!
Can’t you feel the wind trying to scoop you up?
Rain does make you wet.
Everyone is very concerned.
They say there is a typhoon whose arms are reaching inland toward us.
Even though I’m out in the elements all year long I don’t claim to be well informed about developing weather patterns. From what I’ve been able to gather, the first storm hit today (it did rain hard!) and a second more intense storm is scheduled for tomorrow (rain and wind).
Hey, I was glad to have the day off! Glad to have already sown and grown my last seed for the year. I was already ready to let the wind carry me away.
Ready or not, tomorrow; winter gardening is here.